Conjugating ey-j-ur Verbs

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by Siggi
An island stands in the ocean.

ey-j-ur verbs are a group of words that conjugate like regular strong verbs in the present tense, but take both a vowel shift and an -i verb suffix in the past tense. The reason for the name is that they nearly all have 3 things in common:

  1. They nearly all have e or y in the stem
  2. They nearly all have -ja infinitive
  3. They all form the 2nd and 3rd person singular (you and he, she, it) with -ur.

Plus, eyjur means islands in Icelandic, so it’s a nifty pun.

ey-j-ur verbs are one of the smallest categories of verbs, with fewer than 40 members. They’re not terribly common, either, accounting for just 3% of all verbs used. Still, you should learn them one day, and since you stumbled on this article it seems today is that day!

If you’re wondering how you can tell which verbs are ey-j-ur verbs, check out my Overview of the Icelandic Verb Categories.

A quick caveat on terminology: “ey-j-ur verbs” is just what I call this group because it feels more intuitive than the more academic notation. You might know this category as Weak 3 verbs, W3, or something similarly abstruse. I’ve also seen them called -ur verbs, which I like for its intuitive nature, but dislike for not really differentiating them from the strong verbs.

Rule of Thumb

The ey-j-ur verbs conjugate like regular strong verbs in the present tense. In the past tense, they conjugate like -i verbs, but with a strong-verb-like vowel shift. 

These charts summarise the whole article: if they look like a lot, look at them again after reading. Everything will make sense after that. 

Present Tense 

These verbs aren't really all that interesting in the present tense: they work like perfectly regular strong verbs

You might have noticed that the j from the -ja infinitive ending pops back up in the plural forms (við, þið, þeir, þær, þau) - sometimes. That’s because Icelandic spelling has some frankly convoluted rules about when to write j, which are beyond the scope of this article. Focus on the sound, not the spelling.

Past Tense

Now we’re talking! ey-j-ur verbs really shine in the past tense, because they combine:

  • the vowel shift of strong verbs, and
  • the suffix ending of -i verbs.

Vowel Shift

The vowel shift of ey-j-ur verbs actually isn’t quite the same as that of regular strong verbs. In fact, it’s almost like an inverse of the regular strong verb vowel shift.

The majority of these verbs have e in the stem, so that’s the most common one. Only a couple verbs have ý in the stem, so that’s the least important one.

Suffix Ending

 In addition to the vowel shift, these verbs take the same endings as regular -i verbs in the past tense, complete with a ð, d, or t suffix.

Since the vowel shift turns e in the stem into a, and the plural endings all have u, u-shift is very common with these verbs.

Supine

The supine of ey-j-ur verbs has the same stem vowel as the past tense.

The suffix can go one of two ways: 

  1. -ið (like strong verbs), or
  2. -t (like -i verbs)

It’s usually -ið (like strong verbs).

The suffix ending is -t (like -i verbs) when the stem ends in:

1. -ð (like kveðja), or

2. -t (like flytja)

Also, a few exceptions like spyrja and leggja. Small irregularities are the spice of life!

Summary

The ey-j-ur verbs conjugate like regular strong verbs in the present tense. In the past tense, they conjugate like -i verbs, but with a strong-verb-like vowel shift.

 Here are some of the most common ey-j-ur verbs, along with their translations. Please note that the translations are just to give you a sense of the word and do not replace a dictionary.

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